It’s sometimes hard to believe that tiny things can have such large effects. But the recent BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig disaster has shown that a small gas leak can lead to a spill so large that experts say it may take several months to contain it.
Scientists have gone one step further and developed a theory to explain how life-altering events can be caused by tiny actions. Dubbed the ‘butterfly effect’, the theory states that it’s possible for a hurricane in Jamaica, for instance, to be caused by a butterfly flapping its wings in Mexico. Just one small flutter can create a chain of events that could have devastating consequences.
When it comes to the logistics industry, the ‘butterfly effect’ holds true. Small slip-ups can create catastrophes. Take the Buncefield oil storage depot disaster in Hertfordshire, for example. A series of explosions caused a fire of massive proportions – the largest in peacetime Europe. Anecdotal evidence even suggested that the explosions were audible in Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Nearby properties were wiped out, including Keystone’s Hemel Hempstead Distribution Centre.
After a lengthy series of investigations, the initial culprit was found to be a faulty gauge on one of the storage tanks. This small fault led to a chain of events that caused over 40 people to be injured.
It’s clear that the consequences of health and safety breaches can be wide and far-reaching. But being safe is about more than buying the best machinery and ensuring that the parts are optimally maintained. Safety starts with people. And it’s up to people to take responsibility for creating a safe working environment.
The flipside is that the small actions that each member of a safety conscious workplace carries out can make a huge difference – creating a ripple effect of good feeling, not to mention a safe workplace. This can lead to a shared sense of trust, co-operation, loyalty and commitment among employees.
Human error will always be an unavoidable by-product of the logistics industry but there are several steps that companies can take to create an optimal safety culture.1) Make safety a core company value
In many companies, if you ask people to recite their organisation’s mission statement, they’ll be hard-pressed to convey the gist of it, let alone remember it word-for-word. Yet, the company’s stance on safety is often outlined in the mission statement.
And if you ask these same employees, 13who’s in charge of safety, they’ll usually point to the person who has the words ‘health’ or ‘safety’ in their job title. So, the safety culture seems to get lost, somewhere between the mission statement and the health, safety, security and environment (HSSE) manager.
Your task is to make safety a core organisational value that is lived and breathed by the entire workforce. Engage the human resources department to create initiatives that allow each employee to really identify with what health and safety means to them.2) Focus on people not policies
Health and safety is more about attitude and behaviour rather than procedure. It’s all very well having management systems, policies and comprehensive procedures that cover work activities. But safety procedures only work if people follow them correctly and fully understand the consequences of any unsafe short cuts.
Always remember that people are the best sources of creativity, flexibility and problem solving ability. Keep this in mind with every health and safety procedure you implement. Don’t be too rigid and allow individuals to feel free to work effectively within certain guidelines.3) Hone employees’ inner warning systems
If you’re in a hurry, it’s easy to get into your car and forget to put your seatbelt
on. Often, your dashboard will start beeping and flashing to let you know your mistake. But even if it doesn’t, your subconscious usually tells you something doesn’t feel right.
Most employees have come across that feeling at work, when they’ve tried to cut corners or, perhaps, deliberately done something unsafe. It’s vital for them to pay attention to this feeling, because things usually go wrong when they don’t. Simply communicating health and safety information via plasma screens, briefings and workshops can bring safety to the forefront of employees’ minds. And this can help them to listen to their internal impulse to keep safe and well.4) Speak out about unsafe behaviours
Explicitly tell employees that they have the right to question others if they see them carrying out an unsafe act. Work on actively developing a culture where safety is valued above employee hierarchy. This helps to create an atmosphere
where people know that their comments count and help them feel empowered to speak up.
Do this by implementing a multifaceted communications campaign to remove communications barriers between employees, managers and directors. Use a mix of verbal, visual, written and online techniques to create an open-door atmosphere. For example, you can host regular online web chats where employees can question the company’s managing director on anything – no matter how small or controversial. Senior managers could do shifts in the warehouse or work in the customer services department. Mixing up jobs in this way allows potential health and safety issues to be raised. And hold regular health and safety forums for all employees.
When you’ve developed a truly sound safety culture, every individual will feel empowered to speak out if they believe that managers’ actions go against the company’s safety values. And when safety is the norm, it’s unlikely that employees will deviate from safe thoughts and actions.
The trouble with safety is that you never quite know which safety behaviour prevented which particular accident or injury - the ‘butterfly effect’ doesn’t work backwards. There’s little fame and glory in being safe, but creating a safety culture will pay dividends.
Paul Pegg is vice president of Keystone Distribution. Keystone Distribution exclusively manages the complete supply chain and distribution to 1200 McDonald’s restaurants in the UK. Keystone delivers McDonald’s total product requirement, which includes fresh, frozen and ambient food, promotional items, point of sale material and cleaning products.
For further information, visit: www.keystone-distribution.co.uk